On Monday the Trump administration on Monday announced a series of new sanctions that target Iran’s arms industry as a part of the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against the Islamic Republic. The new measures also target the Venezuelan government. From Thursday to Saturday of last week, the US Secretary of State visited almost all of Venezuela’s neighbours (Brazil, Colombia and Guyana) to drum up support for Washington’s efforts to overthrow the Venezuelan government.
At a carefully staged media event on Monday attended by three State ministers as well as other senior Trump administration officials, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a new presidential directive that imposes additional sanctions against Iran and Venezuela.
Pompeo was joined at the event by UN Ambassador Kelly Craft, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, where after praising the Trump administration’s accomplishments in the Middle East and the normalization deal between Israel and the UAE he proclaimed:
“Today, I will take the first action under this new executive order by sanctioning the Iranian Ministry of Defense and armed forces logistics and Iran’s defense industries organization and its director,” Pompeo said.
“For nearly two years, the corrupt officials in Tehran have worked with the illegitimate regime in Venezuela to flout the UN arms embargo,” he said. “Our actions today are a warning that should be heard worldwide, no matter who you are. If you violate the UN arms embargo on Iran, you risk sanctions.”
Additionally, Pompeo said the US would sanction two individuals who are central to Iran’s uranium-enrichment operations.
The US is also seeking support for its unilateral ‘snapback’ sanctions against Iran, while the rest of the UN Security Council (except the Dominican Republic) plans to lift its existing arms embargo against Iran on October 18.
Monday’s sanctions are part of an attempt to pressure Security Council members to reimpose sanctions. The notes accompanying the presidential decree allege that:
“Transfers to and from Iran of arms or related material or military equipment represent a continuing threat to regional and international security – as evidenced by Iran’s continued military support that fuels ongoing conflict in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen.”
“Iran benefits from engaging in the conventional arms trade by strengthening its relationships with other outlier regimes, lessening its international isolation, and deriving revenue that it uses to support terror groups and fund malign activities.”
The executive order authorizes the seizure of property and assets connected either directly or indirectly to the Iranian arms industry.
The US Department of the Treasury is designating entities that support Iran’s nuclear and ballistic-missile programs and senior officials overseeing Iran’s nuclear power and ballistic-missile development. Some are affiliated with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which has operational and regulatory control over Iran’s nuclear program.
Asked about European countries’ objections to the US snapback, Pompeo claimed that: “The country that’s isolated today is not the United States, but rather Iran.” Despite their unequivocal statements that the US measures have no legal basis or effect, the Trump administration and Israel are doing everything possible to get them to change their positions.
“By these actions, we have made it very clear that every member state in the United Nations has a responsibility to enforce these sanctions,” he said. “That certainly includes the United Kingdom, France and Germany. We will have every expectation that those nations enforce these sanctions.” LINK
Venezuela’s economy is going through one of the most difficult periods in modern times under the weight of existing sanctions and the economic blockade. The country’s crude output is at historically low levels.
Venezuela Analysis reports that according to figures from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), average oil production in August was 340,000 barrels per day (bpd) after averaging 339,000 bpd in July. The numbers reported directly by state oil company PDVSA were slightly higher at 396,000 bpd, up 4,000 bpd compared to July.
Following the imposition of US financial sanctions against PDVSA in August 2017, Venezuela’s crude output declined steeply from 1.911 million bpd in 2017 to 1.354 million bpd in 2018.
The Trump administration imposed additional sanctions on the oil industry last year, including an embargo and a blanket ban on all dealings with Venezuelan state entities. After falling for much of the year, production stabilized in the last quarter to bring the 2019 average to 796,000 bpd.
Secondary sanctions, alongside low oil prices and contracted global demand due to the coronavirus pandemic forced PDVSA to halt several projects and joint ventures. The Trump administration then targeted shipping companies and vessels, forcing several companies to cease dealings with PDVSA and confiscating several oil shipments in an effort to block all oil exports from Venezuela.
However, Venezuela’s oil industry has received more support from Iran following the arrival of an Iranian very large crude carrier (VLCC), which allegedly had its Automatic Identification System tracker switched off en route before docking at the Jose Antonio Anzoategui oil terminal in east Venezuela on 13 September.
The Iranian ship reportedly unloaded 500,000 barrels of condensate at the Petropiar facility, which is jointly run with US oil company Chevron. The condensate is used to dilute Venezuela’s extra heavy crude into oil grades favoured by Asian customers.
Iran sent five fuel shipments to Venezuela in May and another three vessels are reported to be currently on course to Venezuela. Tehran has also assisted the efforts to increase production at Venezuela’s refineries, including the Paraguana Refining Complex in Falcon State.
In a related development, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrapped up a three-day tour of Venezuela’s neighbours over the weekend. During the trip the US and Guyanese governments announced that they will conduct joint military patrols on the disputed Venezuela-Guyana maritime border.
Pompeo asserted that the joint maritime patrols will be aimed at ‘drug interdiction’ and providing ‘greater security’ for Guyana. While the scope, nature and duration of the joint maritime patrols have not been specified, it is expected that they will work alongside US naval warships deployed to the Caribbean in April, supposedly to conduct ‘anti-narcotics’ operations.
The disputed territorial waters of the Essequibo strip, between Guyana and Venezuela, are being explored by US multinational Exxon Mobil which is hoping to exploit the estimated 15 billion barrels of oil thought to be located there. The exploration licence was granted by the government of Guyana despite Venezuela’s vehement objections. Caracas has repeatedly pointed out that Georgetown’s awarding of oil exploration contracts violates a 1966 bilateral agreement on the status of the disputed area.
Pompeo also visited Surinam, Brazil and Colombia between Thursday and Saturday as part of efforts to increase pressure against Venezuela.
In each country, the former CIA director made unfounded accusations against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, repeatedly describing him as a ‘narcotics trafficker’. Upon returning to the United States, Pompeo announced that Washington would sanction Maduro, who he described as Venezuela’s “former president.”
“Maduro has to go,” Pompeo declared from Guyana. “We know that the Maduro regime has decimated the people of Venezuela and that Maduro himself is an indicted narcotics trafficker. That means he has to leave.”
Venezuela has dismissed the US Justice Department ‘narco-terrorism’ charges, while others have pointed out US law enforcement agency data showing most drugs arrive in the US from Colombia through Pacific and Central America routes.
Perhaps the most ominous event took place in the Latin American giant Brazil, which has South America’s largest and most powerful armed forces including potent offensive capabilities (unlike Colombia, which has been hostile to Colombia since shortly after Hugo Chavez was first elected president in 1998, but whose armed forces are equipped almost exclusively to combat and control its own people and do not have the capacity to launch a major attack outside Colombiasn territory).
During a visit to the Brazilian border city of Boa Vista, Pompeo repeated the accusations and threats, promising the “fall of the Maduro regime,” while his counterpart Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo declared that the Venezuela government will “disappear.”
While in Brazil Pompeo pledged another US $348 million in aid, supposedly to help the region deal with the Venezuelan migrant population, including $30 million for Brasilia.
Relations between Brazil and Venezuela have continued to worsen in recent weeks, with Brazil’s controversial extreme right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro declaring Venezuela’s diplomatic corps persona non grata two weeks ago and subsequently suspending their visas and travel permits.
Pompeo’s last stop was Colombia, where he praised Colombian President Ivan Duque for his support for Venezuela’s opposition figure Juan Guaido, as well for what Pompeo described as “the democratic transition for a sovereign Venezuela free of the malign influence of Cuba, Russia and Iran.” In return, Duque promised to back a “new chapter in [US-Colombia] bilateral relations.”
Pompeo’s visit to Bogota coincided with joint ‘anti-narcotics’ military exercises conducted in the north of Colombia. The ‘Poseidon’ exercises were held between Friday and Monday in the northern province of Sucre, a short distance from the United States’ Naval Base in Cartagena City. Apart from around 800 military personnel (and at least as many ‘contractors’) stationed in Colombia, approximately 50 US Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) troops arrived in Colombia in August. LINK
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